Tommy Jarrell

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Tommy Jarrell (born Thomas Jefferson Jarrell, March 1, 1901 Surry County, North Carolina, died January 28, 1985) was an American fiddler, banjo player, and singer from the Mount Airy region of North Carolina's Appalachian Mountains.


Although he made his living from road construction (operating a motor grader for the North Carolina Highway Department until his retirement in 1966), Jarrell was an influential musician, eventually attracting attention from Washington D.C. when he received the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship in 1982.

Jarrell's style was notable for its expressive use of syncopation and sliding ornamentation, and he was adept at singing while playing. His formidable technique and rough timbre continue to influence modern aficionados of Appalachian old-time music and in particular the Round Peak style of clawhammer banjo.

In his later years, Jarrell lived in the small unincorporated community of Toast, North Carolina. His life is documented in two films by Les Blank, listed below. He got his first fiddle with ten dollars he got from his grandpa. That fiddle is now in the Smithsonian Institution.


An annual Tommy Jarrell Festival, established in 2002, is held in Mount Airy, North Carolina.[1][2]


  • 1983 - Sprout Wings and Fly. Produced and directed by Les Blank, CeCe Conway, and Alice Gerrard. El Cerrito, California: Flower Films. OCLC 64236970
  • 1994 - My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge. Directed by Les Blank. El Cerrito, California: Flower Films. ISBN 0-933621-61-2.

Selected discography[edit]

  • 1976 - Sail Away Ladies. Tommy Jarrell. County Records
  • 1986 - Been Riding with Old Mosby. Frank Bode with Tommy Jarrell and Paul Brown. Folkways Records



David Holt, 1976

External links[edit]